ALULA interviewed four women leaders who provided their unique perspectives into the past, present, and future of women in the workplace and some positive outcomes the pandemic has provided.
As March comes to a close, so too does Women’s History Month. This celebration is of special significance to us at ALULA, as this company was founded by two strong women leaders nearly 30 years ago. There’s also the fact that our organization is comprised of at least 50% women on our Board of Directors and across all positions. While Women’s History Month may be the prime time to celebrate these successes, it’s important to remember that, for many, March 2021 also marks the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 Quarantine. We’ll surely be talking about these events and the impact they had on the business world for decades to come. Hopefully we can direct some of that change for the benefit of women everywhere.
In that spirit, ALULA interviewed four women leaders in diverse positions. Their unique perspectives offer a greater insight into the past, present, and future of women’s advances in the workplace. While each and every leader interviewed had her own story and views, there were also commonalities discussed that may prove valuable moving forward after the massive shifts in the business world in 2020.
LARA TRIOZZI, CEO, MarketLauncher
When we began our interviews, one of the first leaders we spoke to was MarketLauncher’s CEO: Lara Triozzi. MarketLauncher, founded in 2001, deals in complex B2B marketing. While it wasn’t one of the goals Lara originally had in mind when founding MarketLauncher, her company has created an environment where women can attain valuable leadership experience at any point in their careers.
“I didn’t do it on purpose!” Lara said when asked about her positive impact on so many women. In fact, MarketLauncher’s leadership team is comprised entirely of women. “It happened organically. I just created the environment. People are attracted to MarketLauncher because they want to work with smart people.”
In many ways, MarketLauncher was well ahead of the curve, as all of their employees have worked remotely—whether it be full-time or part-time—for years. “We used to hide it; in the early years we used to not tell clients that we all work from home!” And with the recent changes in working life that COVID-19 brought about, the company found itself uniquely prepared for the challenge. “I see my coworkers more than most people sitting in an office,” she said. In contrast to many business leaders who want to return to the office ASAP, Lara sees this way of working as a natural evolution of everyday business technology. “We track so many metrics and other KPIs, that we don’t need to know if you’re in a chair, in front of your computer. It’s irrelevant to how well you’re working”
Further, Lara sees this shift to remote work as a particular opportunity for working women. So many women leave the corporate world when they decide to raise children or need to take care of a family member, but, in something of a silver lining to COVID, that may no longer be a strict dichotomy. (https://www.marketlauncher.com/team/lara-triozzi)
DANA WILLMER, Ph.D., Acting Director, Pittsburgh Mining Research Division of NIOSH
This sentiment—that the pandemic may have paved the way for some positive, progressive changes— became something of a running theme in our interviews. When we asked Dana Willmer, Ph.D. about what we should be celebrating for Women’s History Month, she echoed that theme. As the Acting Director for the Pittsburgh Mining Research Division of NIOSH, she’s seen how the lens through which working women are viewed has changed focus.
“We’ve been allowed to encourage a culture—especially with COVID—that focuses more on the individual,” Dr. Willmer told us when discussing the past year. In her current role, she is seeking to shift work culture to better align with the changes brought on by COVID. She notes how, for decades, the flexible work environment was championed—sometimes at great personal cost—by women. Now, the world has changed, and the corporate world supports that very lifestyle. Dr. Willmer has been observing a shift in leadership away from more traditional personal power and more toward relationship management.
When asked what the future holds for women in leadership positions, Dr. Willmer was characteristically optimistic. “The lens is widening because of the efforts of women leaders over the generations, as well as recent events. The world is wide enough for many women in leadership, so it’s important to support one another!”
She went on to elaborate the ways in which women could help lift each other up, not just to get leadership positions, but in the workplace in general. “Help others find a space where competition is there to encourage, rather than discourage other women. It’s important to set up leadership development opportunities in ways where people can succeed or fail, but then they can try again.” For Dr. Willmer, it’s a leader’s obligation to ensure others are successful while staying inclusive and creating respect, even if there are disagreements or perhaps even if other women leaders made another choice. “We as leaders also have to make sure folks have an opportunity to say yes or no to these opportunities—and when it’s no, it needs to be no without repercussions.” (https://www.linkedin.com/in/dana-willmer-ph-d-b1235711/)
LISA GARRETT, Shareholder, Dentons Cohen & Grigsby P.C.
When women are supported in this fashion you get experiences like those of Lisa Garrett, a Shareholder in the law firm of Dentons Cohen & Grigsby P.C. For Lisa, it’s plain to see how far women have come. “I’m a member of the Firm’s Employment & Labor Group and we’re a majority of women now, but when I started, I was the only woman attorney in our group,” Lisa told us when we asked about her history in the law firm which spans for more than 25 years. “Law has historically been a very male-dominated industry/profession, but we’re seeing more women attorneys be promoted and hold leadership roles at all sizes of law firms and within the legal profession generally.”
While this news is encouraging, when asked about her vision for the future of women in leadership positions, Lisa had one major concern. “Retention of women has been and could continue to be an issue, especially when women leaders move through different phases of life – for some that is parenthood but it can look different for each person.” Yet, within that concern, she saw potential. Much like our other interviewees, Lisa noted the shifting landscape of work culture as a result of the pandemic as a potential boon to women, and especially women in leadership. Working-from-home doesn’t just make balancing personal commitments and leadership positions more viable, but more accepted and in some cases, they can see and relate to others tackling the same challenges at home. This could have far-reaching effects, Lisa hopes. “I am optimistic that with more women in leadership, there will be more paths opened to continued careers for all women.”
For Lisa, the key is supporting women leaders through mentorship and sponsorship. Though any leader will tell you that these are distinct relationships, they are often intertwined. “You need to find a good mentor, even if you’re not officially assigned one. In some cases, that mentor can be your sponsor as well. Your sponsor should be someone who is involved in making decisions or provides input on decisions and can advocate for opportunities on your behalf when you are not in the room.” It became clear during our conversation that Lisa cares a great deal about the concept of legacy. “During my career I have mentored and advocated for opportunities for a number of women. As a leader, it is imperative and a priority for me”. She hopes that through mentoring women and lifting them up as leaders, she can impart wisdom to future generations and leave a legacy of women mentors who champion leadership for years to come. (https://www.dentons.com/en/lisa-garrett)
HEATHER MCGEE, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Psychology and Co-Chair, Industrial/Organizational Behavior Management, Western Michigan University
While it’s extremely important to look to the future, it’s just as beneficial to look back and see how far we’ve come. We did some looking back in our final interview with Heather McGee, Ph.D., Western Michigan associate professor and co-chair of the Industrial/Organizational Behavior Management program. She is also the co-founder of Performance Blueprints, a performance improvement consulting firm and a member of ALULA’s Board of Directors. “I happened into a field that was filled with women leaders,” she said. Indeed, for as much progress as women leaders are making today, it’s important to acknowledge the women that paved the way.
Dr. McGee recalls attending one particular panel early in her career. The behavioral science–focused program was titled Women Behaving Boldly, and after hearing those pioneering women speak, she thought “I’m going to be one of them.” The accomplishments of women leaders in the past has made the current climate more receptive to women’s leadership. Dr. McGee notes that “We’re seeing this entire shift in our industry; it’s becoming more female-driven, and it’s less about how you dress or how you act as a woman, and more about encouraging women in general.”
Of course, we also asked Dr. McGee about the world to come for women in positions of leadership. She echoed sentiments present in our earlier interviews: “The pandemic, as bad as it’s been, has shifted work.” Just as before, we can see opportunity arise from hardship. “That benefits women to an extent,” she said. The COVID pandemic may have upended the world in innumerable ways, but every cloud has a silver lining, and the progressive movements that sprung up around the lockdown have enacted progressive cultural change where we’re only just beginning to see the effects, she added.
Dr. McGee went on to say, “Seeing the first woman as Vice President makes it clear we will see a woman president in the next generation. But there’s still work to be done to achieve equal pay for equal work. Women cannot be complacent. We need to set our sights on true equality and equity in the workplace.”
And so, we’ve reached the end of our interviews, as well as the end of Women’s History Month for 2021. 2020 is historic for many reasons, and it’s odd to think how much of that history was less than one year ago. Here’s hoping the momentum of that cultural shift will carry into the future and continue to benefit women in leadership well into the coming decades and beyond. (https://wmich.edu/psychology/directory/mcgee)
Post author Karen Gorman finds reward in achievement. But, unlike many with that characteristic, Karen differs in that she feels most fulfilled when her accomplishments benefit those around her, whether that be a cause, a person or an organization.
As ALULA’s Chief Executive Officer, Karen believes her principal responsibility is to define, model and advance a culture that ensures the business and people thrive in a dynamic, quickly evolving marketplace. Her greatest motivation is contributing to the success of others fueled by an innate professional need to provide ongoing and increasing value to the entire organization, clients and shareholders. (https://alula.clg.com/about/team/karen-gorman)